White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

Category: Book
By (author): Isenberg, Nancy
Subject:  HISTORY / Social History
  HISTORY / United States / General
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Social Classes
Publisher: Viking
Published: June 2016
Format: Book-hardcover
Pages: 480
Size: 9.56in x 6.56in x 1.49in

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*White Trash will change the way we think about our past and present.
-T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Custer's Trials

In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing––if occasionally entertaining––poor white trash

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as "waste people," "offals," "rubbish," "lazy lubbers," and "crackers." By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers," known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.
            Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ's Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation's history. With Isenberg's landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.
Review Quote*Reviews of White Trash

" Hers is a book that should forever change the way we think and talk about class, which Isenberg suggests is the rotting stage upon which American democracy will either stand or fall."

--The American Scholar

"A rigorously researched study of the entrenched system of racial classification that dispels many myths about American national identity.In this impressive work of social history, Isenberg  challenges head-on America's 'fable of class denial.'...From the eugenics movement to the rise of the proud redneck, Isenberg portrays a very real and significant history of class privilege in the United States. A riveting thesis supported by staggering research."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Meticulous… White Trash is a history of class, a history of race, and a morality tale about the dangers of othering. …Isenberg makes clear that no matter how othering occurs, it's a central theme of American history and all the ugly bits we want to ignore in order to perpetuate the myth of a great, classless and fair society. But while that narrative has always been the goal, it has never been the reality."

"Isenberg's expertise particularly shines in the examinations of early America, and every chapter is riveting."
--Publisher's Weekly (boxed, starred review)

Advance praise for White Trash

"A magisterial study of the unjustly neglected poor whites who have helped to compose the American identity in crucial fashion. Written with the grace of a superb novel and the forensic fervor of our finest historians, White Trash pokes and prods in the nooks and crannies of the American psyche, and travels the backroads and backwaters of our national self-image, in search of how class has been made and reshaped over the decades. This is breathtaking social history and dazzling cultural analysis at its best.
--Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me and The Black Presidency
"With characteristically deep research and provocative insights, Nancy Isenberg reveals the pivotal role of the white poor in American history. From John Locke's plans for the colonies to twentieth century eugenics, from the rise of Andrew Jackson to the modern Republican party, White Trash will change the way we think about our past and present."
-T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Custer's Trials

"To any and all who want to understand, and understand deeply, our present age of brutal inequality, here is a timely and essential book."
-- Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History

"Nancy Isenberg is a dazzling analyst of American politics and culture and our most relentless foe of cant. Here she makes sense of our entire history, warts imagined and real.  This is not just another book about whiteness: it explodes the genre by going back to the beginning and forward to our time."
 --David Waldstreicher,   author of Slavery's Constitution

"A bold, colorful, and necessary book about one of the oldest--and most disturbing--themes in American history."
--Edward L. Ayers, author of The Promise of the New South
"This sweeping and erudite assault on the myth of a classless America illuminates the persistence of ‘waste' people in American political ideology and popular culture. From bog trotting swamp vagrants, to crackers, hillbillies, and trailer trash, Nancy Isenberg makes the spirited case that not only have the poor ‘always been among us,' but that a feared and despised underclass has been a defining characteristic of America since its earliest settlement. "
--Amy Greenberg,  author of A Wicked War

"For all too many in ‘this great nation,' the American Dream is an American Myth, because this is a country where class has mattered more than equality, more than opportunity, and certainly more than YOU think.  Find out just how much class matters from Nancy Isenberg.  She tells it like it is- and always was."
--Christopher Tomlins,    author of  Freedom Bound

"In White Trash, Nancy Isenberg reveals a dark and tangled American secret at the core of our history: the pervasive persistence of white poverty.  She deftly explores the interplay of mockery and denial in treatments, historical and fictional, of hardships and limits in a supposed land of equal and abundant opportunity.  Drawing upon popular media as well as historical sources, from past and present, she exposes harsh realities long kept hidden in plain sight."
 -  Alan Taylor,   Pulitzer-Prize winning author of American Colonies and The Internal Enemy

Praise for Madison and Jefferson

"[A] satisfyingly rich dual biography [that] promotes Madison from junior partner to full-fledged colleague of the ‘more magnetic' Jefferson. . . . An important, thoughtful, and gracefully written political history from the viewpoint of the young nation's two most intellectual founding fathers."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Extensive and well researched . . . [A]n important reappraisal of a critical partnership that shaped our early republic."
-Jay Freeman

Praise for Fallen Founder

"Isenberg's meticulous biography reveals a gifted lawyer, politician, and orator who championed civility in government and even feminist ideals, in a political climate that bears a marked resemblance to our own."
-The Washington Post

"Full of insight and new research. It is an important and engaging account."
-The New York Times Book Review

"[A] sterling biography."
-The Boston Globe
Biographical NoteNancy Isenberg is the author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in Nonfiction. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU, and writes regularly for Salon.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia.